Database Pays Off

Ainsley Downs’ Courtney and Mandy Howells have enjoyed a successful association with prominent agent Paul Willetts. Their association resulted in Group 1 success last Saturday when Affaire A Suivre (Astern) held on tenaciously to win the Australasian Oaks (Gr 1, 2000m),  after being trapped three wide the entire 2000-metre journey. 

“She always looked an Oaks-type of filly, big and scopey,” said Willetts when contacted by Kiwi Chronicles while he was on his way to Sydney for the Inglis Weanling Sale yesterday morning.

Willetts initiated a thoroughbred database many years ago which includes his observations of the quality of foals from individual mares. “Over time I am able to see a pattern of foals from mares and Laurelling throws cracking foals,” said Willetts.

“When the mare came up for sale, my database notes told me that the Astern foal she was carrying was likely to be a worthy candidate. I had purchased her 2014 foal, a colt by Ad Valorem named Laure Me In, as a weanling. He turned out to be pretty useful, winning the Scone Cup and about $750,000. He’s still going. He ran second in the Bendigo Golden Mile a few weeks back.”

“Courtney and I go back a while and I suggested he buy Laurelling, who is from a family that is revered in America. Her grandam, Fall Aspen, is a legend there. Affaire A Suivre is the 16th Group 1 winner to descend from Fall Aspen, who foaled nine stakes winners in her own right.”

“As an older mare, Laurelling was not likely to bring huge money and Astern was just a stallion at that time. His first crop were yearlings. So, she was worth a punt. Access to her blood was rare in these parts. Had she been in USA she would have made a lot more.”

Courtesy of Arion Pedigrees, Fall Aspen was foaled in 1976, was a Grade 1 winner herself and produced 14 foals, 13 runners and 12 winners, nine of which won stakes including four who scored at the highest level.

The four are: Timber Country (Woodman), winner of the Preakness Stakes (Gr 1, 9.5f) as well as two juvenile Grade / Group 1s; Northern Aspen (Northern Dancer), winner of the Hollywood Park Gamely Handicap (9f); Hamas (Danzig), winner of the July Cup (Gr 1, 6f) at Newmarket and Fort Wood (Sadler’s Wells), winner of the Grand Prix de Paris (G1, 2000m). Fort Wood, a brother to Laurelling’s dam, Dance Of Leaves, became a highly successful stallion in South Africa.

Aspen Falls’ first foal was born in 1982 and since then 65 stakes winners and 46 stakes-placed winners can claim a direct, tail female line connection to her. That is a remarkable number in such a short space of time.

Apart from her own Group/Grade 1 winners, others include her grandson Dubai Millennium (Seeking The Gold) and Ribchester (Iffraaj), each four-time Group 1 winners.

Willetts’ triple involvement with Laurelling suggests that his database has paid off. From his attendance at the Platinum Session of the 2015 Inglis Weanling Sale to purchase Laure Me In, to the 2019 Inglis Broodmare Sale to purchase Laurelling then to Karaka to secure her daughter, Affaire A Suivre, is a lesson in Willetts’ belief as well as his system.

Keeping it in the family
Keeping the family in the headlines following last week’s stakes breakthrough by Cheval D’Or (Almanzor) in last week’s Championship Stakes (Gr 3, 2100m), is rising star Kovalica (Ocean Park).

The two three-year-olds are closely related. Kovalica’s dam, Vitesse (Makfi), is a half-sister to Cheval D’or as well as to triple Group 1 sprinter, The Bostonian (Jimmy Choux). The latter two are from Keepa Cheval (Keeper), herself a half-sister to Hall of Famer, King Mufhasa (Pentire).

The Chris Waller-trained Kovalica is putting together an imposing record with Saturday’s Queensland Guineas (Gr 2, 1600m) his fifth win in just seven starts and the performance set him up a strong chance in the Queensland Derby (Gr 1, 2400m), which will take place on May 27.

He may have one more run before then but the 2400 metres is unlikely to be an issue as the son of Ocean Park (Thorn Park) already has winning form over an extended trip when winning the Grand Prix Stakes (Gr 3, 2100m) last December.

His maiden preparation began last October with a fourth at Newcastle, followed by an unbroken streak of four wins at Wyong, Warwick Farm, Doomben and the Grand Prix Stakes at Eagle Farm.

He loves it in Brisbane. His Doomben win over 2000 metres was a walk in the park. He was never further back than third and came away to win under a hold. His win in the Grand Prix Stakes saw him last leaving the back straight but he looped them rounding into the straight, took over at the 300 metres and was never in doubt to the line.

Spelled for 16 weeks, he returned at Randwick in the South Pacific Classic (Listed, 1400m), finishing strongly for third before the current campaign in the Sunshine State.

In Saturday’s Guineas he began well but drifted to be back of midfield and three wide at the end of the back straight. He gained from the 600 metres but into the straight took a while to warm to his work, not reaching the lead until the last few strides, looking like a stayer in the process.

Being only his second run this time in, he is sure to improve and it is going to take a good one to deny him his Group 1.

Agent Guy Mulcaster found Kovalica among Gordon Cunningham’s Curraghmore draft at the 2021 New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Yearling Sale, shelling out NZ$110,000 for the youngster. Kovalica’s earnings after Saturday topped $480,000, a total which is sure to increase.

Waikato Stud has maintained Ocean Park’s stud fee for 2023 at NZ$30,000 (plus GST). So far, his headline acts are four-time Group 1 winner Tofane and $6.5 million earner and triple Group 1 winner Kolding. They are two of 19 stakes winners for the 2012 Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) champion, who defeated All Too Hard (Casino Prince) and Pierro (Lonhro) that year.

With 251 individual winners from 388 to race, his winners/runners ratio stands at a healthy 64 per cent.

True to form
Anyone buying a yearling by Preferment (Zabeel) probably knows that winning a Golden Slipper Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) is very unlikely, although Zabeel’s (Sir Tristram) son Octagonal did finish second to Flying Spur (Danehill) in 1995 and Flying Spur is the sire of Preferment’s dam, Better Alternative.

Winner of the Victoria Derby (Gr 1, 2500m) in November 2014, Preferment’s best form took place at four when he came back in the spring to land the Hill Stakes (Gr 2, 2000m) at Rosehill immediately followed by the Turnbull Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) at Flemington.

Starts in the Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m), the Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) and an ambitious trip to Hong Kong for the Vase (Gr 1, 2400m) resulted in below par efforts. However, he returned in the autumn to score the Australian Cup (Gr 1, 2000m). He was second across the line but won the race in the enquiry room as he was hindered late by the winner.

Venturing to Sydney, he added the rich BMW Stakes (Gr 1, 2400m), taking the lead three deep, from the 600 metres and holding off all challenges in the straight including the gritty stayer Who Shot Thebarman (Yaminan Vital). Third was future Hong Kong champion, Beauty Generation (Road To Rock), who raced as Montaigne before he was exported.

A few more starts the following season did not see Preferment at his best and he retired to Nick King’s Brighthill Farm with five wins and earnings of $3.4 million, a wonderful return on his original NZ$190,000 purchase price at the New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Premier Sale of 2013.

Preferment’s BMW victory is reminiscent of Saturday’s VRC St Leger (Listed, 3000m) won by his son Dunwoody and the victory provided Preferment with his first stakes winner.

Having his fifth start, Dunwoody arrived at Sandown with one third placing at Bendigo over 2400 metres last October. That was his second start before a spell of 25 weeks, returning for a poor eighth followed by another decent effort, again at Bendigo, again over 2400 metres, in which he got to the line quite well for fifth.

In the $300,000 St Leger, Jordan Childs elected to go to the front from the outset, led down the hill into the straight then never gave in the length of the straight for the upset win. On form, he deserved to be at 60-1 odds but he couldn’t be denied the win after doing all the work out in front then holding out a late finish by fellow roughie Highland Blaze (Highland Reel).

Trainer Matt Cumani was full of praise for the gelding: “He’s the sort of horse you’d want to go to war with. He would be your charger because he’s just big and strong and he just keeps going.”

Dunwoody is bred to get a distance. His dam, Queen Ouija (Street Cry) won four times from 1950 metres to 2400 metres. Her best winning stake was, coincidentally, at Bendigo, over 2400 metres.

Queen Ouija is a half-sister to five winners, all from the unraced Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) mare, Celtic Queen, dam of the South African Group-placed mare Queen Mira (Danehill Dancer).

Celtic Queen’s brother, Alberto Giacometti (Sadler’s Wells) won the Criterium de Saint-Cloud (Gr 1, 2000m) for two-year-olds, running third to Dalakhani (Darshaan) in the Prix Lupin (Gr 1, 2000m) at three. He is a direct descendant of the Yorkshire Oaks (Gr 1, 1m 4f) winner and champion filly Attica Meli (Primera).

Dunwoody fetched $5,000 at the Inglis Gold Yearling Sale of 2021 but reappeared later that year in an online sale, this time selling for $2,250. He races under the name of Mrs R McDonald and R McDonald is listed as the purchaser at the Inglis Gold Yearling Sale.

Cheers turned loose
Having bred and later sold Turn Me Loose (Iffraaj) for NZ$52,500 at the 2013 New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Ready To Run Sale, George and Maryanne Simon, under their Mana Park banner, were twice rewarded in the ring.

In 2016, before Turn Me Loose won the New Zealand 2000 Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m), they sold a Cape Blanco (Galileo) half-sister as a weanling, bringing in a healthy $150,000. At the 2018 NZB Karaka Yearling Sale (Book 1), they sold Turn Me Loose’s sister for an even healthier $360,000.

Turn Me Loose became a premier miler at four, taking out two Melbourne Group 1s against hot opposition but not in the Simons’ navy and pink colours.

So much for watching from afar the success of a home-bred, plus two satisfying results in the sale ring. Saturday’s Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m) might be their biggest thrill as the couple were excited to witness a close relation that they bred Denby Road (Shamexpress), dash through from the 150 metres and take out the three-year-old feature. Denby Road is from a half-sister to Turn Me Loose.

Even closer is the fact that George as the north’s premier commentator got to call his and Maryanne’s colours home. One can only imagine what that must have been like. Only Keith Haub would know.

When all is said and done, smiles are at least as big at the racecourse as they are in the sale ring and everyone on track was delighted for them.

Denby Road made a good winning impression in his first raceday appearance last September and placed in three of his next four starts, with the New Zealand Derby (Gr 1, 2400m) considered a possibility. His unplaced run in the Waikato Guineas (Gr 2, 2000m) scuppered those plans.

Freshened and trialled, his trainer, Shelley Hale, talked the owners out of a return to racing in a Benchmark 65, instead nominating for the Group 3.

He was third last in a compact field when they settled but improved starting the bend and sat midfield (two out) near the 600 metres. Starting the run home he accelerated to be closer, found a gap but didn’t immediately take it then drove through at the 150 metres. Inside the 100 metres he was clear and had enough in the tank to hold out a late challenge by a neck.

“He actually came to the end of his run 50 metres out, so he had to find the last bit and it was a really good run from him,” said rider Ryan Elliot.

“We’ve always had a pretty big opinion of him and we know he is quick, but as he wanted to stretch out a little it was the natural thing to try and get him to the Derby,” said Hale. “He was tired after the Waikato Guineas so we were going to put him away until he was four, but he spelled so well. He is just a natural talent. I think he is something a bit special.”

One might wonder if George and Maryanne Simon are fans of Elvis Presley considering Denby Road’s dam Dwandaofu (Align). The song, “The Wonder of You” was one of The King’s later hits which made the Top Ten in the US but reached the top of the charts in England and remained there for six weeks in early 1970.

A bay with four white feet, just like his sire Shamexpress (O’Reilly), Denby Road is the ninth stakes winner for the Windsor Park Stud resident whose fee for 2023 has been set at $8,000 (plus GST), a slight reduction from his 2022 fee.

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